CHAPEL HILL — N.C. State senior Earl Wolff tried to find the words after the Wolfpack’s first loss to North Carolina in six years, but he could only shake his head.
“It’s a tough loss,” Wolff said. “I don’t know.”
N.C. State saw a game it controlled in the second half turn into a 43-35 loss to the Tar Heels on Saturday at Kenan Stadium.
One big play after another did in the Wolfpack, Wolff said.
“I still can’t believe it,” Wolff said. “We gave up too many big plays.”
N.C. State’s defense gave up eight plays of 20 yards or more and then, for the second straight game between the rivals in Chapel Hill, the game turned on a punt return.
Gio Bernard’s 74-yard punt return with 13 seconds left gave the Tar Heels the win against the Wolfpack, its first since coach John Bunting’s final home game in 2006.
Bernard beat up the Wolfpack with 135 rushing yards and 95 receiving yards on eight catches. He scored three touchdowns.
N.C. State had focused its game plan on stopping Bernard, but it was to no avail.
“He had a great game,” Wolff said. “He made big plays when his team needed it.”
After falling behind 25-7 in the first quarter, N.C. State’s defense did make some big plays of its own to get back in the game. Senior cornerback C.J. Wilson, who has played sparingly since returning from a four-game academic suspension, had two of them.
Wilson intercepted North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner in the second quarter, to protect the Wolfpack’s 28-25 halftime lead.
Wilson also stripped North Carolina receiver Quinshad Davis of the ball after a catch at the N.C. State 10-yard line.
N.C State’s defense also came up with a sack of Renner on third-and-goal from the 7 with 1:30 left in the fourth quarter to force a field goal.
But the punt coverage team couldn’t stop Bernard at the most important time.
“It hurts, we all know it hurts,” Wilson said. “We’ve been on the other end of it.”
Two more for Underwood: N.C. State receiver Bryan Underwood caught a touchdown pass for the eighth straight game, which is one game shy of the ACC record.
Underwood caught a 20-yard touchdown in the second quarter and a 55-yarder in the third quarter.
Underwood, who finished with six catches for 118 yards, also dropped two passes in the first half.
“It’s a good milestone to have but even with all the things I did today, I still feel like I let the team down,” said Underwood, who has had two straight 100-yard receiving games.
Underwood wasn’t the only N.C. State player who had trouble holding onto the ball. The Wolfpack dropped at least seven passes, including a ball that bounced off Rashard Smith’s hands for a Darien Rankin interception in the third quarter.
Double-duty for Ebron: North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron has the size, at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, to be a good pass rusher. He was given the chance to play defense on Saturday. He played three series at defensive end in addition to his tight end duties.
He didn’t record a defensive stat but Ebron did enough damage on offense, catching four passes for 79 yards.
Notable numbers: N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon equaled a school record with five touchdown passes. Glennon also had five TD passes in a win over Maryland last season. Glennon finished with a career-best 467 passing yards, it was his second 400-yard game (at Miami, Sept. 29) which were both losses. … N.C. State hadn’t allowed a punt return longer than 9 yards all season until Bernard’s 74-yard touchdown. … Punter/holder Tommy Hibbard completed two two-point conversion passes to backup tight end Jack Tabb, one in the first quarter and one in the fourth.